Tyto alba

A few posts ago in ‘The Owl and the Woodpecker‘ I mentioned that a pair of robins may have started getting fruity in my garden as early as the begining of January. And then last Friday I saw another robin feeding a fledgling on the grass outside work, so it looks as though the avian breeding cycle may have been able to start early this year. I hope it has, and that it allows other species to recover some of their numbers too.

Also in that post, I talked about our local barn owls, of which we had two breeding pairs in and around the village last year. And one gloriously sunny evening in July myself and my daughter, Sophie, set off across the fields with a portable hide, binoculars and a camera to try to see the owls and take some photographs. I know where the owls nest so we tried to get in position to see them heading to and from the nest site via a circuitous route to avoid disturbing them.

A barn owl, Tyto alba, heading out on a hunting mission

We eventually found a spot at the top of a drainage ditch between two fields around 150m from the shed where the owls had built the nest, and we didn’t have to wait long for them to appear. Truth be told I’ve always had a thing about all owls, but especially barn owls. I think they’re beautiful and iconic creatures, and very reminiscent of warm summers evenings in the English countryside. It’s always an exciting moment when I catch sight of one.

And the other thing that struck me as we sat and watched these was how they are incredibly efficient predators:

…and heading back again clutching the booty

We sat and watched them coming and going for about an hour and in that time they arrived 6 times with prey. So on average every 10 minutes one of the parents returned with a meal for a youngster, this one was carrying a rodent in its talons which it delivered to the nest, spent a couple of minutes with the youngsters, then departed on the next foray.

And another meal being delivered

And they carried on hunting into the dusk at which point we upped sticks and headed for home. I don’t know how long the owls carried on hunting but the parents seemed to be so successful that they may not have needed to carry on for much longer, after which they would have spent the night at a roost site separate from the nest with the youngsters in.

It was a glorious evening and Sophie was beside herself as one of the owls flew right overhead and looked straight at her, as barn owls are wont to do, as she looked straight at it. A memory that will stay with me, and her I hope, for a very long time!

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28 responses to “Tyto alba

  1. Good on you for encouraging the youth, the problem is though that nature conservation is so complex now and that’s speaking from a science-based perspective. The future generations not only need to know about how to identify our wildlife and have some sport of connection with nature but they also require the knowledge in just how to best conserve our wildlife. I say, acquire an equal dose of field observation and scientific involvement. Times have changed dramatically in the space of a few years and now it’s down to the future generations to save the rarest of our birds, flowers, bees or whatever it may be.

  2. Great images! Kudos to you for giving Sophie such magical memories.

    • Thanks Ruth! It was indeed a magical evening. Those owls are such magnificent creatures and it feels as though they let you into their world for a very brief interlude. It’s a privilege, and Sophie loved it.

  3. Aren’t they’re so cute! :)

  4. Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… If you haven’t already signed the petition about barn owls (Tyto alba) http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/infopage.html?Id=343 you might want to do so after you read this account of a birdwatching trip. My own love of the natural world grew when I was about the age Sophie is now, and my father took me on Dawn Chorus walks with the local Wildlife Trust. Learning like this can stay with a child for life.

    • I actually signed the Barn Owl Trust petition last night – it would be a terrible indictment of human stupidity and selfishness if we allowed them to disappear. Thanks for the reblog.

  5. A wonderful story with wonderful photos! As we’ve learned to expect from you, Finn. But the way things have been going it’s not clear that the barn owl will be numerous within your Sophie’s lifetime. Here’s a petition about poison http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/infopage.html?Id=343

    • Hello Sam, good to hear from you. That’s really worrying me too, and the mad thing is that I don’t it needs to be this way. If the use of poisons were adequately controlled and landowners and managers were mindful of the wildlife, the countryside could be managed so profits remained at an acceptable level as well as leaving room for the wild creatures. Thanks for the link too.

  6. Fantastic blog entry!

  7. What a wonderful experience for Sophie and to share such a treasure of a moment with her is pure magic. Love the piece Finn
    E

  8. Some truly fantastic shots Finn! Myself and my partner (Ann’s WIldlifeArt) are huge fans of owls and most especially the barn owl. The picture of the barn owl clutching its booty is particularly impressive.

    I think I’ve asked you this before, but what lens/camera do you use? I recently got myself a Canon 60D with a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. It’s perfect for the close up shots but I also want to be able to take distant shots with similar clarity/depth of focus etc. I know whatever the case, I definitely need to start saving up some pennies!

    • Hello Woody, you’ve got a nice macro lens there, I’ve been contemplating a Canon macro but I need to save up first!

      I think you did ask that question before but I reckon it may well have changed since then.

      For distance I use a Canon 7D with the Canon L series 100-400mm zoom lens, which is what I captured the barn owl with in this post. For more close up I use a Nikon D7000 with a cheap and cheerful Sigma macro zoom which I took a punt on at about £90, and it’s turned out to be a nice bit of kit for what I use it for.

      On the subject of the eyewatering costs of photographic equipment I’ve resolved to never buy anything new. I don’t know if you’ve ever come across MPB Photographic (http://www.mpbphotographic.co.uk/). I’ve bought a lot of kit from there now, including my D7000 and the Canon 100-400mm lens, and I’m happy to say the quality has been excellent so far, and exactly as described on the website. The images there are of the item for sale, not a new one, and are all zoomable so you can view it close up. Well worth checking out if you want to avoid being fleeced!

      • I regret not getting the 7D, but tbh the 60D is great for now. Just spent half hour drooling over the lenses on the MPB site. Thank you for sharing that. Problem now is that I have dangerous thoughts of just buying a lens and worrying about the repercussions later. Hmm…

      • Ha! I’ve been down that road many times, and each time I end up hundreds of pounds poorer. But curiously, I never regret it!

        The 7D is excellent, the combination of that and the 100-400mm lens is perfect for what I do. I was in a hide at RSPB Fen Drayton at the weekend and a guy came in with a Canon 5D with the 600mm super telephoto with a teleconverter, and apart from being around 11000 quids worth it was enormous. So even though you get the additional reach it’s not portable in the way that I need mine to be. What I really like about the 7D is the image quality even at high ISO, it gives it a lot of flexibility.

  9. What an amazing pastime to share with your daughter :). Owls are efficient with catching prey apparently and should be given kudos for reducing rodent populations in urban areas. How efficient, those unsightly unhygenic rats being cleaned up by something so magestic and beautiful :)

  10. What a lovely experience to share with your daughter. I’m a little envious of your magnificent barn owls, I don’t know if they’re so common up here, although my sister sees them occasionally out in the wilds where she lives. Your photos are terrific, and I’m surprised by how much prey the owls brought home in an hour. They are such beautiful birds, thank you for sharing your photos.

  11. A magical evening indeed, the owl looks beautiful in the golden evening light. One flew by me one evening in the dusk, really close, and very silent – it seemed unearthly…

  12. Beautiful post Finn, loved the Pictures and the words which took me straight back to those exquisite gentle English dusks, sweet with the memories of centuries behind them…

    • Thanks Valerie, I couldn’t agree more. Of all the places I’ve seen in the world there are none quite so delightful as a warm summers evening in the English countryside. And as you said, they are laden with an atmosphere of the past!

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